Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Monday, August 18, 2008

Community Post: Building Height Limitation Proponents Submit Petitions

Here's a community post from Lanny Ebenstein:

This past Friday, one of the broadest coalitions ever assembled in Santa Barbara submitted 11,252 signatures to the City Clerk's office to place an initiative on the ballot that would permanently reduce building heights in Santa Barbara. The coalition supporting the building heights limitation charter amendment includes for the most part liberal though not progressive Democrats to moderate Republicans. Individuals who support the Save El Pueblo Viejo proposal include Sheila Lodge, Harriet Miller, Marty Blum, Bill Mahan, Dale Francisco, Joan Livingston, Judy Orias, Cathie McCammon, Connie Hannah, Betsy Kramer, Dianne Channing Joe Rution, Gil Barry, Bendy White, Don Sharpe, Mary Louise Days, Louise Boucher, Beebe Longstreet, Gerry DeWitt, Jim Westby, Michael Self, Steve Forsell, and Elly Langer, among others. Organizational endorsements include the Citizens Planning Association, League of Women Voters, Allied Neighborhoods Association, Pearl Chase Society, and Santa Barbara Safe Streets.

From the perspective of many proponents of the initiative, the issue of the proposed charter amendment includes affordable housing. The current approach is not working, resulting as it does in high-end supercondos and low-end subsidized or government housing, with nothing in-between for working families and others who wish to own their residence without, as some Save EPV opponents advocate, 60-year restrictions on resale pricing, among other constraints and limitations. What is perhaps most interesting about the advocates and the opponents of the Save EPV initiative is that, for the most part, Save EPV proponents are individuals who have lived, worked, and been involved their whole lives in Santa Barbara, and Save EPV opponents are more likely to be individuals who have moved to our community more recently, though there are undoubtedly exceptions.

Smaller buildings are affordable by design. In addition, the truly substantial development intended by some, perhaps most, Save EPV opponents should be mentioned. At a recent forum before the Board of Realtors on this subject, one prominent local Save EPV opponent, an architect, noted several times the beneficial example of San Luis Obispo, which has raised its building height maximum from 60' to 75'. To be clear, as is evident from discussion on Blogabarbara and elsewhere, some "smart growth" advocates (the primary opponents of Save EPV) would like to see 6 or more floors on construction in Santa Barbara.

Passage of the Save EPV charter amendment would permanently forestall development above 3 and 4 stories in the city. Height maximums would become 40' in El Pueblo Viejo and 45' feet in the rest of the city. This would be down from the current citywide maximum of 60'.

The lines on the Save EPV charter amendment initiative could not be more clearly drawn. Opponents wish to see buildings taller than 40' in El Pueblo Viejo and taller than 45' elsewhere in the city. Proponents wish to see 40' and 45' become the maximums, consistent with the historical development of Santa Barbara. In the event that the Save El Pueblo Viejo initiative qualifies for the ballot (which should be known by about September 15--6,480 valid signatures are required), it promises to be one of the most interesting and consequential initiatives in Santa Barbara's history.

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Anonymous Don McDermott said...

This feels like a witch hunt to me. Liberal democrats and conservative republicans coalesce on this most important issue, demonizing structures 15 feet higher than this old town's firebrand activists should have to endure.

There is an over-reaction resulting in this wailful cry of "cayonization," "its too tall," and finally "there's no greenspace." I cannot understand how this initiative will solve any problem that this broad coalition decries.

Isn't it is possible that the current height limits are appropriate and could even be allowed higher. To get affordability, setbacks, paseos and greenspace wouldn't it be better to adopt an ordinance requiring those features. Otherwise we will end up with the same negative features that the proponents lament.

Ebenstein's second paragraph is a bit confusing but he asserts that the current affordability approach is not working. But then that is not the intent, intentionally or as a by-product, of this initiative is it, is it to fix the affordability component. No it is not.

While there are problems with the affordability programs at least there is a net realization of affordable units. The fact that new market rate units may negate the benefits of affordable units shouldn't mean that we stop all new construction should it?

And aren't there problems with the market rate housing market as well. "Smaller buildings are affordable by design." Oh really? I guess to some relative degree that is true but a 1,000 square foot cottage in this town is not affordable. So Ebenstein's statement is not really accurate is it?

Couldn't we fix market rate housing problems with a restrictive initiative of some convolution such as this proposed amendment? No second stories additions allowed in the Upper East, Riviera, San Roque, Samarkand? There is no altruism in this proposed charter amendment and indeed it is rather wrought of selfish self interest even if the proponents are direct descendants of the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria.

8/18/2008 11:32 PM  
Anonymous Intilectually Dishonest said...

"Smaller buildings are affordable by design," writes Lanny.

Until sometime between the Planning Commission smoke and mirrors show and the politically traded City Council meeting when the price goes up and they "don't pencil out".

And Lanny calls himself some kind of economist?

Affordable By Design only stays affordable with more sprawl outside the urban area, which apparently is what Lanny wants.

8/19/2008 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Eckermann said...

Let's not fool ourselves. This is battle between the "smart growth" advocates and the "preservationists." The former group is fixated on adding square footage and people within the city limits of Santa Barbara and the latter group believes that the best way to preserve the aesthetic ambiance of Santa Barbara is to tightly control development with specific design criteria. The "affordability" arguments are distractions. San Francisco and Manhattan have no height limits and there is no unsubsidized or un-rent-controlled affordable housing in either place. The demand for housing in Santa Barbara will always exceed the supply, a condition which drives the price point of homes here. Adusting height limits one way or the other will not affect those supply and demand curves. So it simply gets down to what we want our built environment to look like. The fundamental (and very difficult) question is: Does everyone who wants to live in Santa Barbara get to live here? If the answer to that question is "no," then we should give up the effort to construct warehouses for people and concetrate on the aesthetics and ambiance.

8/19/2008 8:00 AM  
Anonymous Affordable Farce said...

Everything is affordable in Santa Barbara because everything is eventually purchased by someone who can afford it.

Just because YOU can't afford to live in Santa Barbara does not de facto make Santa Barbara not affordable.

Get over yourselves and your sense of entitlement to entree in one of the most desirable places in the US to live. If you can't afford it, step aside because plenty of other people can.

450 square feet facing the Salvation Army homeless shelter with $450 a month condo fees on top of mortgage payments and limited equity growth for a $200,000 mandated "affordable unit" in Berkus's Chapala One project may be someone's idea of making Santa Barbara "affordable".

But it is a cockamannie rip off that only created more over-bloated high end units that serve no one's interests for true community building since they were required to subsidize this continued city council farce they dare to call "affordable" housing.

Throw the bums out. Pass the height limits and lets retake this city back for the residents and not for the whining commuters and those who fail to save and earn a right to live here.

If you want to live in Santa Barbara, buy an already affordable mobile home and get out of my face because I see no reason on God's green earth to give you a premium hand-out.

8/19/2008 9:15 AM  
Anonymous AN50 said...

Eckermann, I couldn’t agree with you more, for a change. The building height issue is not about growth, smart growth, density, affordable housing at all. I have studied and written about the building height issue at length and in spite of those who use growth, smart growth, density an affordable housing as wedge issues, anyone with any intelligence at all can see, as you have pointed out, it all comes down to aesthetics. So what do we want the city’s core or downtown (EPV as Lanny calls it) to look like? What sort of ambience do you speak of? It is quite clear that when we clear away the clutter arguments clouding the limits issue and get down to what people actually like, we have two distinct camps: those preferring low rise, low density, suburban style small town feel and those who prefer the historical urban feel of Santa Barbara with denser multi storied buildings reminiscent of a city.
That denser feel, the one you get when walk down a street with taller buildings is what I found attractive about Santa Barbara in the first place. The city’s core when I first experienced it was not characteristic of southern California’s typical mid sized city. Low density, low rise is the mantra of suburbia. Santa Barbara bucked the trend until 1972. Since then the calling has been to transform a once proud city with dominion over the tri-counties in to a quaint, charming little trophy with all the character of phony Disneyland prop.
I have no sway either way on growth, I neither benefit nor feel penalty whether it happens or not. But squashing a city flat and creating a phony ambience does bother the hell out of me. When Lanny or other pro-limiters talk about preservation two things come to mind; the sick feeling you get when something alive is killed, stuffed and hung above the mantle for someone’s amusement and what the hell do you think building height limits preserve? They certainly do not preserve the very nature of Santa Barbara which is higher density and taller buildings, so what then? When one looks at the number of the city’s taller buildings that were built when SB was really much smaller the issue becomes absurd. If the Granada building at 112 feet tall, the Potter hotel at 80 feet tall (burned down in 1921) and the balboa building at 79 feet tall were not too tall for a small town of 25,000 folks just getting used to gas powered buggies and electric lights, then how in the world is 60 feet too tall 83 years later when the town has grown to 90,000 (with a local metro area of 200,000)? I’ve heard of going retro but this is way over board and quite senseless.
No amount of phony staging of the city as some preservative soaked trophy town is going to make “small town charm”. You want that move to a real small town. I have often compared the limits being imposed on this town akin to trying to preserve your son’s youth by dressing him in the clothes he wore when he was 11 years old even though he’s now 40. The building height limits being imposed now are as embarrassing as that image. The new limits would be akin to forcing the 40 year old into his 8 year old sized clothes. It is not pretty, charming, quaint, beautiful or smart. The limits being imposed show a rather stunning lack of appreciation for what Santa Barbara’s architecture and true character are all about. They instead say “we don’t want leadership, prominence or greatness, but instead want to shrink back into a delusional world that has long ago left us, so we can pretend we are something we are not”.
It is one thing to call for preserving a town’s architectural heritage and history, but the limits being called for do neither and betray the true nature of Santa Barbara’s once glorious past.

8/23/2008 3:13 PM  
Anonymous Eckermann said...

AN50, as with all discussions about aesthetics, we can disagree about what constitutes beauty and glory. I appreciate your ability to articulate your vision, which is almost Roman or even Gothic in its scope. Perhaps you are right and we will never regain the Spanish village or California Beach town some of us remember. But at least we should continue to have the discussion. Perhaps something even more beautiful than either your vision or mine will blossom out of the dialogue.

8/23/2008 4:20 PM  
Anonymous AN50 said...

Thanks, Eckermann. I know that most of my postings are full of fire and venom, a common reaction to what I see as, largely, lazy misconceptions, repetition of talking points and a lack of true understanding of what’s really going. Few in this town are willing to drop the facade and get down to what we are really talking about and that is occurring on both sides. But I would be lying if I didn’t also admit that my writing style is vastly influenced by my passion for the subject and that genie has been corked for 40 years.
The truth is, I am very passionate not only about the architecture of buildings but how they convey our relationship as a community. I am very much a fan of the “small town” character so many here want to preserve. What confuses me is that our community has got it stuck in their collective mind that you can’t have it in tall buildings. A visit to small towns across this country and around the world does not support this conception, with the decided exception of southern California with its sprawling suburbs without out a city style (though the recent backlash against this trend has not done tall buildings any justice at all).
My point all along has been that building heights are not the enemy and to a lesser extent growth, but how they are done. That blanket limits do nothing to save your “charm” or “character” but instead make it impossible for the architectural community to design and build to standards that create community within the community and to create great works worthy of the next generations preservation efforts. The irony is that I have found my self defending projects built on Chapala because of the height issue when in fact I agree that these projects are out of character with our town, simply because they are too short and spread out and lack a cogent relationship to their surroundings. When I question developers about this they shrug and say it’s the best we can do with a straight-jacket on.
I do not expect many on the limits side to understand that. I don’t expect them to like the alternative, which is taller on a much smaller foot print and closer to the core. I don’t expect many in this town to appreciate the beauty and function of having a much denser and taller core so that out lying neighborhoods can stay relatively shorter and less dense (the traditional model). Hopefully, we can through dialog breakdown the misconceptions and stop piling animus on the wrong things. We really do need to put fear of development back in the bottle. It isn’t development but how it’s developed and we have to get over the idea that those us not in the design profession are some how better than those in it.

8/24/2008 11:54 AM  
Anonymous Green Genie said...

You can't have a small town feeling with tall buildings. This is not rocket science.

You can not have a small town feeling pushing front yard setbacks down to only 10 feet.

That is another huge hole in the city zoning code.

Current historic set-backs need to be frozen as is. ASAP!

8/27/2008 5:38 PM  
Anonymous AN50 said...

Genie, Santa Barbara is not a small town and hasn’t been for nearly a 100 years. But when it was 3.5 times smaller than it is now it built most of its tallest buildings. So GET OVER IT, thank you very much.

8/28/2008 9:02 PM  
Anonymous a voter said...

Let's allow the voters to decide this issue. It all comes down to whether one prefers Santa Barbara to remain pretty much as it is now, achieved by implementing growth controls such as the proposed height limit,------- or whether one prefers Santa Barbara to grow like crazy with lots of high density smart growth big buildings and lots of population growth to fill all those new big buildings and lots of traffic congestion caused by all these new people moving to town who of course mostly all have cars, achieved by implementing high density smart growth and allowing tall buildings. ------I know which I prefer and so know which way I'm voting!------Don't let the smart growth advocates fool you by claiming that they don't propose a lot of population growth, because that is exactly what will occur by allowing tall buildings and high density smart growth, whether the advocates want such quantity of growth or not. they don't appear to get that high density growth is just another word for a lot of growth---i.e: a whole lot of people packed in close together.

8/30/2008 12:03 PM  
Anonymous AN50 said...

Voter, you typify the absolute falsehood of the height limit argument which is to link tall buildings with growth. You cannon believe how difficult it is to get through to people how utterly illogical this is when they are convinced, almost religiously, that taller buildings mean more growth traffic and everything else. I guaranty you; you will have all the things you don’t like about growth with low rise buildings. When and if you can ever separate the aesthetics and morphology of buildings from the consequences of growth and zoning then you will understand what I’ve been trying, in vane it seems, to get across. Until then your vote will be for stereotype and ignorance.

8/30/2008 9:09 PM  
Anonymous let the voters decide said...

This initiative is a wonderful thing.

The voters will decide how tall buildings will be in THEIR town, and in the process inform the powers that be how the majority feels about tall big buildings, high density and smart growth.

Power to the people.

No smart growth for our town!

9/03/2008 2:31 PM  

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